As the title might imply, this blog will from time to time look back at stories of my childhood and assorted Rempe lore. For starters, I thought I would begin with the story portrayed in the above banner—what has come to be known to friends and family alike as “the butter knife story.”
In recent years, some have called into question elements of this account. The objections generally center around the nature of household current, and its ability to propel small children considerable distances. To this, I can only say that I remember what I remember, and the images from that Sunday morning remain firmly entrenched in my brain. Nobody has ever questioned that this is something in which the story’s principals would have participated. In fact, the story could help to explain a lot about the Rempe brothers and our development (or lack thereof).
With that caveat, and operating under the premise that absolute truth should not be allowed to get in the way of a good story, I offer a cautionary tale – one that will be shielded from my offspring until they have learned the dangers of conductivity. I give you “The Butter Knife Story.”
It was early on a Sunday morning. I was about eight years old at time—roughly the age when you start realizing that sleeping in can actually be a good thing. Alas, younger brothers Doug and Bill had not yet reached that stage in their development.
“Steve! Get up! You have to see this.”
Doug was bouncing with excitement. “You really need to see this!” he repeated. Before I could protest, he had thrown the covers of my bed open and had pulled me halfway out of the bed. Knowing that resistance at this stage would be futile, I grabbed my glasses and followed Doug into the living room.
I half-expected some major destruction as I rounded the corner. Instead, I was greeted with the sight of younger brother Bill, still in pajamas and with uncombed hair, seated on the floor. His feet were straight out in front of him, about a shoulder’s width apart, facing the far wall.
“What’s he doing?” I asked?
“Just watch,” Doug replied.
There were two things that I had failed to notice upon my entry into the room. The first was that between Bill’s feet on the wall was a standard two-prong household outlet. The second was the all-metal butter knife he was holding in his left hand.
“Okay, Bill . . . now!”
At this direction, Bill placed his feet against the base wall and inched his body forward. He took the knife and jammed it into one of the slots in the outlet. The resulting jolt of electricity caused him to shoot back several feet.
One other thing I had failed to notice initially was that Doug was holding a yardstick. The yardstick was a regular plaything for the Rempe boys, usually used as a weapon or implement of destruction. It was rarely used for its intended purpose to measure distance. In this case, however, it was serving a special purpose.
“Twenty-eight inches!” Doug announced. “That’s your best one yet, Bill!” Bill smiled as if he had legitimately accomplished something significant.
“My turn,” Doug declared. He took Bill’s place on the floor and proceeded to repeat the spectacle himself, shooting across the floor, with Bill present to help him calculate the distance. Apparently, this competition had been going on for some time prior to my arrival.
Being the most educated brother at the time (3rd grade), I had a sneaking suspicion that there was something about the practice of sticking a metal object into an ungrounded wall outlet that was unwise. After taking my turn in the contest, I was certain of it. I begged out of the festivities, but Bill and Doug persisted, each trying to outdo the other with each successive shock.
By this point, the sun was out, and we could hear mom and dad preparing for church. Little did they know about the competition taking place just down the hall.
Mom was first to emerge from the bedroom. Doug was quick to greet her.
“Hey mom, look what Bill can do!”
Up to that point, I’m not sure I’d ever seen a gray hair on my mother’s head, so I’m guessing this event was the first step to her obtaining the mature, authoritative hairstyle she has today (and earning every single gray hair she now owns.)
Suffice it to say the contest came to an abrupt end. I remember being lectured by dad, an electrical engineer by trade, about the dangers of electricity and the need to respect it. I’m sure he made very good, salient points, but we Rempe boys tend to be slow learners in such matters, and it was surely several years later before we finally abandoned playing with household current.
Three weeks ago, Beth and I were blessed to welcome our second son into the world. While overjoyed about Samuel’s arrival, it does come with a certain trepidation. From my experience, the tendency toward mischief grows exponentially with each successive male progeny. There is something about collaboration that allows boys to come up with new and exciting ways to cheat death that wouldn’t have occurred to them individually. It was definitely the case with my brothers and me.
The hope is that both Caleb and Samuel have inherited the wisdom and common sense of their mother. I have invested in hundreds of little outlet covers, however, just to be safe.